Home Feminism The Rise and Decline of Patriarchal Systems

The Rise and Decline of Patriarchal Systems



Verso very kindly sent me a digital copy of Nancy Folbre’s new tome with the above title. I like getting these things I’m really very sure I’m never going to agree with for it enables me to work out why I’m not going to.

Here the revelation comes early on:

This analysis of collective identity and conflict builds on three propositions that emerged from feminist theory and seemed, initially, to
pertain only to inequalities based on gender.
1. Women share some common interests.
2. Many of these common interests grow out of their historical
specialization in reproductive activities, defined broadly as the production and maintenance of human capabilities and sometimes simply
referred to as “care.”
3. Obligations to care for dependents help reconcile tensions between
individual and group welfare—and, more broadly, between self-interest
and altruism—in ways that are particularly costly to women.
Each of these propositions has proved remarkably generative, extending
in relevance far beyond their original domains. Th at women have some
common interests as women implies that men have some common interests as men, some of which are oft en aligned. Any effort to mobilize individuals around common interests almost inevitably highlights the interests
that they do not have in common. If collective interests can be based on
gender, they can also be based on age, sexuality, race/ethnicity, citizenship,
class, and other aspects of socially assigned group membership.

That’s on page 4. Further study is not required.

For the claim is that reproduction is a female interest in which there is some sort of competition with men. This is not how humans work.

Rather, men and women cooperate in reproduction. Not just in the two step tango which does the direct reproducing but in that combination which makes up the basic human economic unit, the household. Women are, generally enough, weaker physically than men, there are other differences in spatial perception and so on. In those millions of years of ape evolution, the hundreds of millennia of hom.sap., cooperation is how reproduction was done. The very long childhood of small humans means that we are descended – this is how evolution operates, those alive today are the descendants of those who did what works, not evolution designs what will succeed – from those who pair bonded into something akin to a household (a campfire maybe, even an extend kin grouping but certainly not a “society”).

The cooperation is across the gender divide in reproduction.

The competition is between women for access to the males who might make good fathers, between men for access to the women who might make good mothers. Sure, there’s all sorts of other stuff in there, hip to waist ratios being an imperfect signal of fertility, muscle mass equally on the other side of the gender divide. Even sharp jaws (jaws, not the teeth in them) have been claimed to be testosterone related and thus to the likelihood of being a successful hunter. Aggressive like and all that.

So many of the things that we can observe about humans only make sense if this is so. As with a market economy in fact, competition is the stage where one decides who to cooperate with, the actual production is that cooperation.

So, if on page four we’ve an entire reversal of the reality of our species, at this stage where the basic ground rules of the following argument are laid out, we’re not going to gain all that much useful from the following meanderings, are we?

The basic animal urge is to produce grandchildren, an enterprise in which we cooperate across the gender divide and compete within each gender grouping. Really, it’s necessary to grasp that before going further.




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expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

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